Austin, TX - Austin Police Sergeant Zachary Lahood is suing Ford Motor Company and Leif Johnson Ford over claims of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Fox News.
The lawsuit results from a March incident where Sergeant Lahood was injured while riding in his Austin police cruiser. Since then, he has been unable to work. He is also suing unnamed companies who tried to fix the defects in the vehicle, and is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
In the lawsuit, Sergeant Lahood said that the incident occurred on March 28 about 1:30 AM, when he was on-duty as an Austin Police Sergeant. He said that he became "nauseous, light-headed, had cognitive difficulties, headaches, and blurred vision."
He almost lost consciousness, almost hit an oncoming bus, all before he was able to pull his Ford Explorer into a parking lot and cal for help, according to KXAN. When officers and EMS arrived to help, they smelled a strong exhaust smell in the Explorer. Sergeant Lahood was transported to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with carbon dioxide poisoning.
Ken Casaday, Austin Police Association President, said that Sergeant Lahood remains sick with "Vision issues, headaches, nausea, dizziness." Casaday is supporting Sergeant Lahood, and said that Ford needs to take responsibility for what happened, and recall all affected vehicles. He talked about how upset Sergeant Lahood was, and said, "When you have to sit there at home and worry about whether you're ever going to go back and be a police officer again and how you're going to provide for my family."
After the incident, the Austin Police Department installed 400 carbon monoxide detectors in all their vehicles. So far, 26 of them have tested positive for high levels of carbon monoxide, and have been taken out of service. The APD said that Ford issued a bulletin in December that noted concerns about exhaust leaking into some of the 2011-2015 model Ford Explorers.
Casaday said that Ford is making up excuses about non-factory items that are added to the vehicles, including that drilling holes in the equipment [to install other police equipment] is causing the problem.
He said that he's not buying the excuses, "It's clearly a big mistake with their product. Soccer moms and citizens aren't drilling holes in their cars." The lawsuit addresses concerns about a product that was Sergeant Lahood said was “unreasonably and dangerously defective in its design.”
The lawsuit also said 'that various design elements of the vehicle allow poisonous carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment'.
Other agencies across the country are also having problems; several Texas police departments and law enforcement agencies that have affected vehicles have either sent them back to Ford to be checked, have installed carbon monoxide detectors in them, and/or are monitoring the situation closely.
The issue is suspected in causing at least one patrol car collision, and agencies who have installed the carbon monoxide detectors have reported carbon monoxide reaching unsafe levels.
In a statement sent to Fox7, Ford Motor Company said:
"We take the safety of our customers very seriously. In rare circumstances, there have been instances where customers detected an exhaust odor in Explorers and Police Interceptor Utilities. We have thoroughly investigated reports of exhaust odor and do not believe this odor condition poses a safety risk. If customers have a concern with their vehicles, they are encouraged to contact their local Ford dealership. In the case of Police Interceptors, odors can be caused by non-Ford modifications or repairs that were not properly sealed."
When we covered this issue months ago, we discovered that Ford's latest statement doesn't match their past statements.
In a 2015 deposition, a Ford company representative said that there appears to be a “design issue,” and that they were working on it. The company has not notified customers and maintains that the issue poses no safety risk. The issue is believed to occur while accelerating with the air conditioning active and in circulation mode.
Casaday said that officer safety is his priority. He said "They're out making sure the community is safe every day and I don't need to be worried, and they don't need to be worried, about being poisoned in their police cars."
Sergeant Lahood is a 2004 veteran of the APD. It is not known when or if he will be able to return to work.